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Jefferson Airplane - Volunteers CD (album) cover

VOLUNTEERS

Jefferson Airplane

 

Proto-Prog

3.58 | 109 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
3 stars Threatened of anti-Americanism for its anti-war stance and counter-culture championning, the Airplane countered with their next album (recorded a full year after COC) that they intended to call Volunteers Of America, but some charity organization blocked this, so the Airplane got revenge by displaying their patriotism in another manner: check the artwork and imagine the establishment's reaction. However, it was impossible for JA to repeat their incredible artistic success of COC without making a "son of COC", so the sextet went in a different folkier musical direction (returning to their roots really), but this album is overtly political: revolted by the R Kennedy assassination and the return to Republican rule, they just had allergies that had to come out one way or another.

Starting out on the Kantner protest classic We Can Be Together and the traditional Good Shepherd (arranged by Jorma), the album is off to a deceiving start especially compared with the previous three albums, but if those tracks remain good (and very good), the real dud is the (thankfully) short countryish Farm. Saving the first side of the album is Grace's Hey Frederick, where Grace is reminding us of the previous album; she shines all the way through the 8-min+ of the track on her piano, while Jorma wails away and Jack (a bit under-mixed compared to the previous albums) is pounding the thunderous bass background. But even in this album highlight, there is a slight flaw as the group gets lost for about a minute while improvising, but catches up brilliantly. Another relatively weak track closes a deceiving first side.

While the first side closes off one another weaker track, the second side opens with another absolute Airplane classic, the Stills-Crosby-penned (him again ;-) Wooden Ships, which takes to the magic of tape effect intros (creaking masts waves and seagulls) has a delightful crescendo with one of Balin's best singing performance, Grace on piano and Jorma pulling a superb solo. Just after this gem, comes another Slick-penned track which is reminiscent of the previous album and where Grace picks up her flute again (something she had not done in the previous COC), and reveals her anger, swearing and ranting openly. Casady is again providing some superb bass layers but is again under-mixed.

After two such great tracks, there was hope for another good album, but sadly the folk-country spirit returns and the album ends in a tailspin, with a sub-par title track even if it oozes rebellious revolution, it is a noisy (intended of course) call to rise and protest. Kantner still being quite a political rebel up to nowadays even though he has had major health scares. Unfortunately the album fails to raise this writer's interest outside the three long tracks, and maybe one of the mistake done was to ignore two of the members' contribution: Balin as the founder and Dryden's experiments are what fails in this album.

The five bonus tracks on the remastered album are a live late-69 concert excerpts, just a week before the disastrous Altamont festival, where bikers would beat up (and kill one of) the audience members and Balin also. Nothing really essential in the bonus tracks, but interesting to notice the speeded-up Somebody, the updated Plastic Lover and the extended Wooden Ships. One gets to see just how much of a rock band they were.

This album would be the last really good and influential album, with Marty Balin now departing, as his role was fast eroding (only one partial credit on the album), but also Spencer Dryden leaving on grounds of exhaustion: he was doubling with Casady and Kaukonen in the Hot Tuna-aftermaths of JA concerts (the trio could play up to six hours a night), but his love affair with Grace was now over as she was now frequenting Kantner. The group also created their own label (which at the time was only done by the Beatles, The Moody Blues and the Rolling Stones) named Grunt (oh the humour!). What the Airplane will do after this album is really not quite as classic or influential as their albums up to now. Even if I do not appreciate this album as much as the previous ones, please be assured I am in a minority, even if I still call this album highly influential

Sean Trane | 3/5 |

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